“For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
Paul’s is not saying here that he will go to be with Christ as soon as he dies. His words here have to be understood in relation with his other statements where he clearly refers to death as a sleep and that the dead are unconscious in their graves till they are awakened at Resurrection Day. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51); “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (Thessalonians 4:13–15).
Jesus taught that death is an unconscious state of sleep. Jesus said, “When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). And concerning His dead friend Lazarus, he confirmed, “These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11).
The scriptures say that in death, humans are totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind. After death a person: returns to dust (Psalms 104:29), knows nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), possesses no mental powers (Psalms 146:4), has nothing to do with anything on earth (Ecclesiastes 9:6), does not live (2 Kings 20:1), waits in the grave (Job 17:13), and continues not (Job 14:1, 2) til the resurrection. For more on the state of the Dead, check the following link.
So, in Philippians 1:23, Paul is not giving a doctrinal explanation of what happens at death, he is simply showing his deep “desire,” to leave his present troubled life and to be with Christ without reference to a lapse of time that may occur between these two events. Sincere Christians of all ages have had this same desire, without necessarily expecting to be immediately into the Savior’s presence when their eyes have closed in death. Since there is no consciousness in death, and no awareness of time, the resurrection morning will seem to the departed one as occurring the moment after his death.
Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.
In His service,